Founded in 1786, Columbia is the oldest and largest city in the state of South Carolina and one of the oldest cities in the United States. This makes it rich in history with TONS of fun things to do with kids in Columbia, South Carolina!
The Midlands of South Carolina is a beautiful combination of history, nature, folklore and fabulous Southern Cuisine. The people here are just as kind and warm as our famously hot summer days. With so many things to see and places to explore, you’ll not only find your visit with us exciting, but educational too!
If in your travels you find yourself visiting our beautiful city, here’s a list of my suggestions for family friendly activities.
#1 The Governor’s Mansion was originally the officers quarters for the Arsenal Military Academy. After having been burned by Sherman’s army in 1865, the building was abandoned until 1868 when Governor James Orr declared the structure become the home for South Carolina’s Chief Executive Officers. This beautiful home sits on nine acres of beautifully landscaped gardens filled with unique statues and tranquil fountains. The ideal setting for one of a kind family portraits or just a day spent strolling the gardens and learning about the history of our great state. Tours of the mansion are also available on Tuesdays through Thursdays by appointment only. There is no charge for these tours, but you must schedule in advance by filling out the form here.
#2 The South Carolina State House is situated on 18 beautifully landscaped acres that are as much a part of our rich history as the debates and Gubernatorial Inaugurations that take place on the very steps where athletes train and children play. The State House is home to the South Carolina General Assembly and the offices of both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
Guided or self-guided tours are not only welcomed but encouraged. Guided tours are available Monday through Friday, however, if your group is larger than 10, you’ll want to schedule an appointment. Brochures for a self-guided tour can be found in the gift shop located on the main level. One of my favorite activities for the State House grounds is to pack a picnic and head off on a scavenger hunt. You can download the scavenger hunt list here.
Perhaps history isn’t your thing or your children would rather explore the inside of a fire truck or milk a cow. Well, I would suggest that you head on over to the Southeast’s largest children’s museum.
#3 EdVenture Children’s Museum is the largest children’s museum in the Southeastern United States. You and your children can climb inside Eddie, the world’s largest 10 year old boy, or learn about pet care in the Wags and Whisker’s exhibit. The fun doesn’t have to stop there! If being a firefighter or driving a big green tractor is what fascinates your child, they’ve got that too! There’s no shortage of imaginative play to be had at this museum! There’s a toddlers area and even a cafe to curb that afternoon hunger. Tickets are 11.50 per person with children under 2 years of age admitted free. Of course there are discounts for seniors, educators and members of our military, all with id.
There’s no shortage of museums around our great city. Right next door to EdVenture, you’ll find my fourth favorite recommendation.
#4 South Carolina State Museum building is an artifact in and of itself. Having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the building that was once Columbia Mill was the first totally electric textile mill in the world. Manufacturing duck cloth and was also the first major industrial installation for the General Mills Corporation. But wait, there’s more! As you explore this magnificent museum, you’ll notice many of the floors are original to the building. You’ll notice metal artifacts embedded in the hard wood flooring, these are parts of the brads and rings that carried the threads during the spinning process.
With four floors full of historical artifacts, one of the first things you may notice upon entering the second floor is Finn, the replica of a Megalodon from the Cenozoic Era. Finn isn’t the only noteworthy exhibit. The State Museum features a Planetarium, 4-D Theater, and a 2500 square foot Observatory featuring a 1926 Alvan Clark 12 3/8-inch refracting telescope. This telescope is hands down my favorite part of the entire museum! Admission ranges from $6.95 to $8.95 with children under 2 years old admitted free. There are add-ons that you can purchase for a nominal fee.
#5 Columbia Marionette Theater is a magical and unique theater where puppets come to life. Both entertaining and educational, you and your child will take a behind the scenes tour after each performance. You’ll get an opportunity to meet the puppeteers and see the intricate detail in which each puppet was crafted. While the stories told may have a familiar ring to them, I assure you that you’ve never heard fairy tales quite like the ones told here. Admission is $5 for ages 2 and up. Be sure to ask how you can purchase a puppet of your own!
#6 Frankie’s Fun Park may be what you’re looking for if mini-golf and go carts are more your idea of fun. For those hot southern summer days, Frankie’s has just what you need to cool down. Bumper boats give “that’s cool” a whole new meaning. Once you’re finished there, maybe you want to practice your batting skills, they’ve got that too! Ready to play a game of precision and skill, well perhaps Laser Tag is what you’re craving! There is nearly no end to the amount of fun your family can have at this one of a kind arcade and fun park. Complete with a Drop Zone ride, they’re sure to put your fear of heights to the test. Admission to the park is free, however there is a price for each activity. Frankie’s has a grill so if you’ve managed to work up an appetite, they’ve got you covered.
#7 Lake Murray Cruise via Spirit of Lake Murray is a unique way to relax and enjoy a delicious dinner while cruising the magnificent Lake Murray. One of the more popular cruises is the Purple Martin Tour. This is a natural phenomenon occurs every July and goes into August. Purple Martins are the largest North American swallow and they migrate every year to Lake Murray’s Bomb Island and roost. Truly a magical occurrence you’ll not soon forget. Dinner tours are available throughout the year, but you’ll want to check their website for dates and times.
#8 You cannot come to the famously hot city without heading over to Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens. Nestled on the shores of the Saluda River, Riverbanks Zoo is home to over 2000 animals and a magnificent botanical garden. Covering 170 acres, you’ll find Waterfall Junction a fantastic splash pad for children of all ages. Including a treehouse unlike any you’ve ever seen before, a splash pad for toddlers as well as a larger area for older children. Going to Waterfall Junction could easily take up your entire day. Unfortunately there isn’t a multi-day ticket offered, so you’ll need to pay the full admission price if you break this fantastic zoo into two days. My suggestion would be to explore the animal side of the zoo early when the zoo first opens, and after the heat of the day has you begging for mercy, head on over to Waterfall Junction to cool down. Just be sure to make it back in time to the last trolly to take you back across the river, or you’ll have to walk, and that can be exhausting if you have an overtired toddler with you.
#9 Everyone loves baseball! Spirit Communications Park is home to our very own minor league baseball team, The Columbia Fireflies. Yes, the same Fireflies where you’ll find Tim Tebow playing in the outfield. With tickets ranging from $5-$14, you’ll find you didn’t break the bank with this family activity. You’ll want to bring a blanket to cover the seats as the summer sun can literally put you in the hot seat! Concessions are available during the game.
#10 Speaking of fireflies, if nature is where you’d rather be, then Congaree National Park is the place for you. With 8 different hiking trails, you’re sure to find one that suits your family perfectly. If you’d prefer a different mode of transportation, this National Park offers canoe tours, free of charge. You’ll want to check the website for dates and times, as well as to register as they are on a first come first serve basis. During the first couple weeks of May each year, fireflies come to this national park to mate. Watch the night sky come to life with synchronized fireflies flashing to their potential mates. While the synchronization only takes place a couple weeks out of the year, fireflies can be seen nightly. Whenever you go, be sure to take your favorite form of bug repellent as this is a swamp and the mosquitoes are plentiful! There is no admission price and parking is free as well.
So there you have it, my ten favorite family friendly attractions for Columbia, South Carolina. There is so much more that I could tell you about our city, but there is a limit to how much information I can give you before you’re on overload. Thanks for stopping by and y’all come back now, ya’ hear?
About the author: Carrie Becker is a wife and homeschooling mom to three amazing children, telling their story at Our Everyday Chaos. When she’s not chasing her toddler or keeping the learning fun and exciting for her boys, she can be found with her camera hunting down bugs for a little macro photography. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.
Looking for more? See 14 outdoor activities to do with kids in Columbia South Carolina
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